Why I Walk to End Alzheimer's

 Hailey Thomassen remembers and honors her Oma, shown above, in her work to end Alzheimer’s

I walk to continue my Oma's legacy.

When I was a child, my Oma (in the picture, holding my grandpa's hand) was my second mom. She taught me to be kind to people regardless of who they were, how to laugh (even at myself), and to be frugal and practical. From the time I was little, I remember my grandma's love of exercise and being healthy. Visiting the gym was a daily routine. Two runs daily around the neighborhood was her norm. Her love of exercise continued even into her later years.

After my Oma was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, she continued to walk. Walking was her release, her way of interacting with people, her way to keep the parts of her healthy that she had control of. No one could stop my Oma from her walks—they were part of who she was. Even until her late stages, we kept her moving, walking, standing.

My mom and I have been fortunate enough to inherit many traits from my grandmother—her love of walking and exercising is one of them. My Oma passed away earlier this year. As long as I live, I intend to live her legacy, continue to walk in her memory, and honor her at our Walk to End Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's is currently the third leading cause of death in Washington state. There are over 150,000 Washingtonians who have Alzheimer's or a related dementia, and more than 350,000 family members and friends who provide in excess of 368 million hours of unpaid care. There is no cure for Alzheimer's. And without a cure, these numbers are expected to triple by 2050.

Our vision at the Alzheimer's Association is a world without Alzheimer's. One way you can help us make that happen is by participating in one of our Walks to End Alzheimer's. This is our largest awareness builder and fundraiser each year. The money raised goes directly to Alzheimer's programs and services—such as our 24/7 Helpline, care consultation, education and support groups—as well as research, all in support of individuals and families, like mine, who have been directly affected by Alzheimer's and related dementias.

By walking with us, you can honor the life of a loved one who has dementia, or remember the life of someone you lost to the disease, such as my Oma. Our walks to end Alzheimer's are celebrations of life, and the collective hope that we all hold that, by walking together, we are moving towards a future with a cure.

Join or start a Walk to End Alzheimer's team today! To register for the Pacific Northwest Walk in Seattle on September 21, click here. To register for our Eastside Walk in Issaquah, click here. For more information, call us at 206-363-5500.

Hailey Thomassen works at the Alzheimer's Association Western & Central Washington State Chapter. She also volunteers for the cause. In addition to participating in each Walk to End Alzehimer's, Hailey has led Zoo Walk participants in the early stages of memory loss in weekly warm-up exercises, walking, and socialization.